Melbourne CEO Gary Pert has mounted a staunch defence of coach Simon Goodwin and the club as a whole, in an open letter to supporters addressing the Demons’ turbulent recent history of off-field incidents.
Goodwin has also gone on the front foot to return serve after critics have bombarded the club in recent months, including accusations that he had used illicit drugs.
“Never,” was Goodwin’s emphatic response during an SEN interview when asked if he had taken illicit drugs. “And I’ve said this over a three-year period now and it’s pretty ordinary that I’m actually sitting in this position and having to justify that situation.
“I know where it happened in terms of a rumour from down in the Mornington Peninsula where it was clearly going around. That for me was really concerning and bizarre at the time. It then led to an allegation. An allegation that was fully investigated by Gary Pert and the club about what that might’ve looked like – and there was nothing in it.
“I do not use illicit drugs. I give everything I can to my family and my team in a way that dedicates my life to my football club and to have this play out over three years where my reputation has been caught up in a boardroom battle.
“It has been documented over and over and over again in the public and it’s been really hard for myself, my family and enough is enough. I don’t use illicit drugs and I never will.
“When it’s such a sustained period of time and there’s no fact to the rumour, it is really tough on your family.
The Dees’ culture has been questioned by critics after a series of unsavoury stories surrounding their playing group, with Oliver given a public reprimand and even brief trade rumours following a series of incidents and teammate Joel Smith facing a suspension for a positive illicit drugs test on match day late in the 2023 season.
“I can only go by how I feel,” the coach replied when asked if he’d had contact with Smith since the incident came to light. “When I first heard, I was incredibly angry and frustrated.
“To think that potentially we’ve got a player in Round 23, on the eve of a finals series, not doing everything possible to help the success of our footy team. I can only imagine that same feeling would be permeating through our supporter base.
“I haven’t spoken to Joel, I’m going to let the process play out. Because I’ve got a level of anger and frustration towards it. There are the right people that are talking to Joel from a welfare perspective, and working really closely with him around that.
“Where I sit right now I’ve got a little bit of frustration because of everything we’ve just been speaking about – the behaviours and the culture of our footy club, what we were embarking on into this season – to potentially being in this situation. I’ve got a bit of anger towards it.”
Pert also spoke to SEN to claim the club’s culture was strong despite the negative publicity.
“People have got to understand what culture is about. What we’re dealing with now is we’re dealing with isolated behavioural issues where individuals are being held to account,” Pert said.
“When you have a cultural issue, that’s about whether you have the leaders and the leadership programs and do you have standards and discipline and accountability in place.
“I’ve got to say, I’ve been in the game now for 40 years. Our culture at the club, men’s and women’s programs, is the best I’ve seen in 40 years.”
Demons legend Garry Lyon was conducting the interview but responded with: “I’m not buying it, I’m sorry. You’re telling me the culture is the best you’ve seen in 40 years of footy – you’ve been in a lot of good footy clubs over the journey.
“You’re telling me that you’ve got a high-performance culture, and I can’t – I’m representative of a Melbourne footy club supporter base right now who are going ‘I’m not buying that’.
“I get what you’re saying, but it doesn’t play out that way when I’m seeing incidents here, incidents there, the way that they played in the back half of the year, the discipline – all of these add up to me as not a 40-year-best standard culture. I’m sorry, you can try and convince me otherwise, but I’m not having it.”
Pert earlier addressed the issues facing both players, as well as rumours surrounding Goodwin’s off-field behaviour, in an all-encompassing letter to provide, in his words, a ‘true and balanced view from the Club’.
Regarding Oliver, Pert admitted the star midfielder had been facing ‘personal challenges’ away from the field, and that the club had engaged in conversations about his ‘ability to make disciplined life decisions, reflective of what is expected of all our professional athletes’.
“Club leaders have very clearly outlined to Clayton the behavioural expectations that we have of him, and these behaviours will be reviewed on a regular basis,” Pert wrote.
“It is the player leadership group, as well as Alan Richardson, Simon Goodwin and myself, who will decide if Clayton is meeting minimum behavioural expectations.
Goodwin’s rumoured gambling and drug issues, which stem from former Dees president Glen Bartlett’s strong allegations in the Herald Sun in a series of articles in recent years, were dismissed by Pert as being ‘completely without basis or truth’.
“I personally investigated the matter and did so by methodically interviewing every person that I was aware of who had spread the initial rumours. All admitted there was no basis to the claims but were simply passing on what they had heard from others,” Pert wrote.
“The only valid information was that Simon was seen having a drink with some of our player leaders at the Sorrento Hotel which was hardly surprising, given his strong relationship with the players who were holidaying in the area over the summer break.
“The ongoing embellishment and spreading of untrue rumours have placed an enormous stress and mental toll on Simon and his family over the last three years.
“It is totally unacceptable, and it must stop.”
Pert was keen to distance Smith’s positive cocaine test before a match against Hawthorn late in the 2023 home-and-away season, for which he is currently provisionally suspended for and likely to receive a four-month ban over the off-season, from any suggestions the club’s culture isn’t up to scratch.
“As supporters can see that while both the alleged behaviours of the players [Oliver and Smith] are serious in nature, they are unrelated,” Pert wrote.
“It would be totally inappropriate to take the accountability away from the players and the decisions they are alleged to have made by blaming either our cultural programs or cultural leaders.”
Pert’s strongest defence in his letter was of the Demons’ club culture and high-performance program, saying recent incidents are ‘not a sign of a fractured culture, but an opportunity for our Club leaders, including myself, to take responsibility and reaffirm our expectations of individuals in a high-performance environment’.
“It is also important that the players who live our standards and disciplines every day see that those who fail to do so are held to account,” Pert wrote.
“In no way am I saying our programs are perfect, in fact there is no such thing. We continually review our cultural programs throughout the year and post season. We will continue to evolve and move with the changing dynamics of our Club and the broader industry.
“I am very aware that the recent player controversies surrounding our AFL program have in some cases damaged the trust between the Club and you, our supporters.
“Please know that our leaders in myself, the Board, General Manager Football Alan Richardson, Senior Coach Simon Goodwin, Captain Max Gawn, Vice-Captain Jack Viney and so many others are committed as ever to making you feel proud to belong. I have full faith in our ability to do so.”
Criticism of the Demons’ off-field behaviour has been amplified by their struggle to convert their drought-breaking 2021 premiership win into more significant success.
Despite consecutive top-four finishes in 2022 and 2023, the Dees have twice been bundled out of the finals with consecutive losses – the first team under the current finals system to suffer this fate twice in a row – including losing qualifying and semi finals to Collingwood and Carlton by seven and two points respectively in September this year.
However, the club’s strong home-and-away form, combined with their women’s team currently sitting first on the AFLW ladder, has seen the Demons claim the inaugural revamped McClelland Trophy, which is now awarded on a points system based on home-and-away wins within the calendar year.
The Dees claimed an insurmountable lead in the award with one AFLW round to play, securing the $1 million prize which is expected to be evenly distributed across AFL and AFLW playing and coaching staff.